“Hair” turns gray-haired

There was a sweet nostalgia and a vague sadness and a squirmy embarrassment — and not a whiff of marijuana — in the air when my very groovy tie-dyed companion and I recently embarked with friends on a mind-blowing, far-out excursion into the Age of Aquarius and a production of the great hippie musical “Hair.”

A little history. When I was 13 years old, I somehow aced the admissions test and was accepted into the ivy-covered embrace of the prestigious Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx, N.Y. While I was there, I wore penny loafers and sport jackets with sewn-on elbow patches. And my impressionable mind was shaped not as much by the teachings of Fordham Prep’s Jesuits as by as the happy fact that “The Prep” was located on the campus of Fordham University, where I witnessed demonstrations by the SDS and the Black Panthers, and where I one day wandered into the university bookstore and purchased the first record album I ever owned: The original Broadway cast recording of “Hair.”

Why was “Hair” my first record album? I suppose there was something stirring in my blood, a combination of teenage angst and youthful rebellion and righteous but silent anger and protest at the economic and racial injustices I already sensed in this country (maybe my not-quite-comfortable presence at the still mostly white and still mostly affluent prep school had something to do with this Yonkers boy’s angst). And I know I was very aware of the vague but real prospect of being drafted into the Vietnam War-era military five or six years down life’s road.

But back to the future:
As we sat in a New Jersey theater waiting for the Age of Aquarius to dawn once more, we amused ourselves by checking out the audience and commenting on how OLD many of them were; noted with gladness that at least one-third of the audience looked to be of high-school and college age or a little beyond; and wondered if the young cast of this production of “Hair” would “let the sunshine in” and take off their clothes during the notorious production number at the end of the first act.

Yes, they took off their clothes. And, yes, I enjoyed the show and still liked the music — the title song, “Aquarius,” “Good Morning, Starshine” “Where Do I Go,” “Easy to Be Hard,” “I’ve Got Life” “Frank Mills” “What a Piece of Work Is Man” and “Let the Sunshine In” still have a surprising emotional resonance.

But the audience reaction, at least what I sensed, was disconcerting , a sort of bland, happy-faced, homogenized, weren’t-we-young-and-crazy-and-hip, superficial, Disneyworld, pastel-tinted, self-satisfied response — the hippie generation’s idealism and energy giving way to tired generalities and sappy nostalgia.

Perhaps it’s inevitable….”Give me a head with hair/long, beautiful hair” is now “I used to have hair”…The Age of Aquarius is now the Age of Viagra commercials…”Let the sunshine in” has given way to “Let’s move to retirement community in Florida”…They who were once hippies now get hip replacements.

Maybe Pete Townsend and The Who were on to something when they sang about “My Generation” and Roger Daltrey declared “Hope I die before I get old!” I mean, look at Daltrey now, old and tired and hoarse. Look at the embarrassing and cringe-worthy spectacle as one of the two remaining Beatles — Ringo — walks out on stage and flashes the peace sign and the other surviving Beatle dyes his hair and leads arm-waving, he-used-to-know-better “Hey Jude” audience sing-alongs. Look at the 100-year-old Rolling Stones, looking like they’ve been let out of the crypt for just one more tour.

And look at the world and what things are like more than 45 years after “Hair” opened off Broadway in 1967. War, hatred, poverty and bigotry all survive and even thrive, ”

But there was still something good about seeing “Hair.” It’s hard to define, but maybe that long-haired poet Shakespeare said it best, in the lyrics adapted by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and set to music by Galt MacDermot: “What a piece of work is man…”

Roll On, John….

Every year this fills us with sadness…and with hope:

Rain

Two photos I took along the Merrimack River in Lowell, Mass., as a dark storm approached at about 9 in the morning….and the song I thought of as I dashed into my car and took shelter from the deluge.

 

Really down

Amazing. Sad. It’s been thirty years since the murder. Lots of great post-Beatles songs — “Imagine,” “Jealous Guy,” “Watching the Wheels,” “Mind Games”…..but today I am thinking about The Beatles at Shea Stadium performing “I’m Down,” featuring a great lead vocal by Paul McCartney and wild organ playing and spectacular showmanship by the band’s leader, the late lamented John Lennon.

Like the morning sun you come and like the wind you go…

Got some things to talk about, here beside the rising tide…

The title of this post — of course! — is from the song “Uncle John’s Band” by the Grateful Dead.

Let me take you down ’cause I’m going to…
I’ve been staying recently in my old hometown of Yonkers, N.Y.

A time to mourn…
One morning a few weeks ago I acted on an impulse and visited my father’s grave — more specifically his pullout drawer high up in the marble wall of a creepy mausoleum in Hartsdale, N.Y.

To everything there is a season…

The depraved piped-in organ music and the sickly funeral-home smell of flowers got me thinking about my own funeral plans.

Little trip to heaven…
Basically I have no plans. I do know I’d like to be cremated. I do know I don’t want a funeral.

Imagine all the people….
I think I’d like my friends and family to gather for an informal nondenominational memorial celebration.

May you stay…forever young…
I’d like my younger daughter to read one of her poems. I’d like my son to play something on his guitar. I’d like my older daughter to choose and read some samples of my own writing.

No need for greed…no hunger….
I’d like donations to me made in my memory of anti-hunger groups, peace groups or literacy groups.

And…most important of all perhaps…

May your song always be sung…

I’d like there to be a really good sound system set up
to play these songs (in no particular order):
“Uncle John’s Band” by the Grateful Dead
“Strawberry Fields Forever” by The Beatles
“Little Trip to Heaven” by Tom Waits
A Bach cantata
“Forever Young” by Bob Dylan
“Turn Turn Turn” by Pete Seeger
“Amazing Grace” (no bagpipes, please!)
and, of course, “Imagine” by John Lennon

Someone who’s more than dear to me wants her final farewell to include Eva Cassidy’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World…”

My poor father requested “Ave Maria.”

So many other songs would be appropriate and meaningful and sprung from the heart. So maybe I’ll add a few more songs and someone can burn a CD…it would make a nice departing gift for everyone in the studio audience to take home — and take to heart.

Words of love

It’s one of Buddy Holly’s greatest recordings, later covered by an  up-and-coming young British quartet who called themselves The Beatles, and a discussion tonight about the songs “Words of Love” got me to thinking about the many attempts — by songwriters, philosophers, poets, theologians, psychologists  and bartenders — to pin down that elusive butterfly, the perfect definition of love.

Well, here’s my definition and it’s an anti-definition…I say love can’t be described, defined, delineated or declaimed. I say the look of love’s an emotional x-ray, that love’s a feeling beyond feeling, a syncopated beating of hearts, a galloping pulse, a hope with wings, the dream of all dreams, a never-ending link, a gift beyond giving, a red-hot thing shaped on heaven’s perfect anvil. I say love cannot be described with words, that the book of love’s printed with invisible ink.

But here’s Buddy Holly’s gallant attempt:

Imagine…

Imagine if the Beatles had stayed together just a few more years…if they had recorded just one more album…What early (1970-1975) post-Beatles songs might have appeared on that fantasy Beatles album?

That was the theme of an article I read in some British newspaper a few months back. The writer, Neil McCormick of the Guardian, came up with this track list:

Side One: Instant Karma (John), Band on the Run (Paul), What Is Life (George), Love (John), The Back Seat of My Car (Paul), Back Off Boogaloo (Ringo), Mind Games (John).
Side Two: Gimme Some Truth (John), Let Me Roll It (Paul), Jealous Guy (John), Maybe I’m Amazed (Paul), #9 Dream (John), All Things Must Pass (George), Junk (Paul).

I say drop “Back Seat” and “Band On the Run” and “Let Me Roll it” and “Gimme Some Truth” and replace them with two more songs by George — “Beware of Darkness” and “Isn’t It a Pity” — and a different song by John — “Imagine.”  And I say drop Ringo — just let him play drums…

Here’s my track list:
Side One: Instant Karma, Beware of Darkness, #9 Dream, All Things Must Pass, Mind Games
Side Two: Love, Maybe I’m Amazed, Isn’t It a Pity, Jealous Guy,  Junk, What Is Life, Imagine

Imagine that…

And imagine if John Lennon and Paul McCartney, watching television one night at the Dakota, really acted on their impulse, got into a cab and rode to 30 Rock, and walked onto the set of “Saturday Night Live” to accept Lorne Michaels’ generous offer:

And just in case the song’s not familiar…here’s Paul McCartney’s “Junk” —